Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I Give Up

I support the Weak and Feckless Approach. Trust is based on mutual respect and reciprocity. If, at this moment of rage and cynicism, the ruling class goes even further and snubs popular opinion, then that will set off an ugly, destructive, and yet fully justified popular rebellion. Trust in government will be irrevocably broken. It will decimate policy-making for a generation.David Brooks, NY Times

I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to blog about the lessons of Massachusetts or the direction the President should take in its wake. But leave it to David Brooks to bring out the worst in me. First let me begin by saying that what happened in Massachusetts was a message but not the one that the talking heads and pundits in the media are determined to sell us.

The election in Massachusetts was about President Obama and it wasn’t about President Obama. What am I saying? Am I trying to have it both ways like many of the talking shirts on television who purport to be journalist? No. Let me explain. The election in Massachusetts and the two governors’ races prior to it was not about the President or his policies. What those voters and future voters are repudiating is how our democracy currently functions or fails to function. What the fight over the health-care bill demonstrated to many Americans is that when it came to how our democracy works they didn’t know Jack. Prior to the health-care fight most Americans believed that our democracy functioned like it was taught in civics class so many years ago by a pleasant slightly overweight elementary school teacher. What they witnessed in the past few months turned their stomachs and rightly so. Many Americans had believed the system was broken and now they have some idea how truly broken it is.

The election in Massachusetts was about the President in the fact that he has not been the President he campaigned to be. He was the candidate of change and yet since his election he has not begun the most important change of all, fixing our broken government. The President like so many other politicians thought that the way to fix Washington was this elusive false narrative of bi-partisanship. The way to fix Washington has nothing to do with bi-partisanship in this toxic atmosphere. The term bi-partisanship supposes that you have two parties that are interested in a greater good, the benefit of the people. We currently do not have two groups who share that belief. What the two groups do share is that the greater good is their re-election and job security. The way we fix Washington is to allow our government to function on the most cherished democratic principle; the majority rules. The history of how we have gotten to this mythical 60 vote plateau is long and tawdry but the truth is as long as we allow it to dictate our politics then people like Ben Nelson and Scott Brown become more important than the will of the people.

When President Obama came into office his advisers mistakenly thought that it was George Bush and the Republicans that the public was repudiating, but it was deeper than that. Poll after poll showed that Congress and the government had historical lows in popularity and trust with the American people. To understand this you have to understand the Republican agenda. The Republicans have for decades sought to limit government and its influence in the lives of Americans. Many people have been blindly led to believe it was for patriotic reasons but the truth is that those who have power and rule over others do not need the same government as average Americans do. They don’t need or want for the government to regulate industries, or provide emergency services, or safety nets. In order to convince the American public that government is unnecessary and ineffective each Republican administration has allowed the government to function ineptly and then said, “See we told you the government can’t solve problems.” What this systematic assault on the government through incompetence has done has convinced a large portion of the American electorate that government is unable to help average people. The most recent example would be the Bush administration response to Hurricane Katrina. Has the federal government ever looked more pathetic?

If I were President Obama my number one priority would be to do a series of weekly fireside chats with the American people. I would begin by saying that I am just as appalled at the democratic process as the rest of the American people and we need to begin the process of changing it. Most Americans voted for dramatic change not in their lives but a dramatic change in how government functioned. President Obama was elected to change how the government worked in the lives of average Americans and that should have been one of his top priorities because without that mandate any changes in policy were doomed by the politics of negativity and incumbency. It is time for the President to side with those who elected him and rally those folks to help repair this broken democracy. Until we address this problem it won’t matter what the policies are or who the President is there will be no change. With the latest opinion of the best Supreme Court corporate money could buy the time for change has never been more critical.

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

White Defenders

In a private conversation reported in a new book, Reid described Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign as a "light-skinned" African-American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

I have to be honest that I am always a bit skeptical when white folks feel compelled to step up and defend black folks from other white folks. I am even more cynical when it is white Republicans doing the defending. This would be the same Republican party who has since the 60’s run on the southern strategy, whose conventions look more like all-white country clubs, and who have from his election sought to de-legitimize this President. Now we are to believe that they are so concerned with the delicate psyche of African-Americans that Senator Reid’s remarks rises to the level of Trent Lott? For those who don’t remember Trent Lott was the Republican majority leader who stated that the country would have been better off if unrepentant segregationist Strom Thurmond had won the presidency in 1948.

For the sake of argument let’s look at Senator Reid’s reported statement concerning then Senator Obama. He stated that he was a light-skinned black man which as far as I can tell would be a true statement. My guess is that Senator Reid was alluding to the fact that historically lighter skinned blacks have fared better in American society than darker skinned blacks so that would be a positive in his bid to become president. On the surface this would appear to be a callous statement however if we look at not only the history of blacks within the majority society but also within the black community the statement tends to stand on its own merits. Now does this excuse the fact that darker-skinned blacks tend to be discriminated more than light-skinned blacks? Of course not, but the truth is still the truth. Let’s face it folks whites tend to be more comfortable with light-skinned blacks. If you were to poll blacks and say does the fact that President Obama is light-skinned does that diminish his status as an African-American I think the answer would be a resounding no based on the fact that he received almost 100% of the black vote.

The second part of Senator Reid’s remarks could be more problematic in the sense that he stated that Obama had no Negro dialect which could be offensive to some blacks. The question then becomes do blacks as a group speak differently from whites and can those differences be readily apparent to the listener? I think Senator Reid was stating that Barack Obama could choose to speak black or white depending on his audience. The problem here is that we are talking about politicians who often craft their message depending on their audience and for a politician to be able to speak to multiple groups is an asset. I think I remember during the campaign how Hillary and Bill changed dialects when they were speaking in black churches or to primarily black audiences. Does that make them racists? I think not, it makes them politicians. As every successful black man knows who is not in the entertainment business or a professional athlete knows we live in two different worlds we have to adept in the white world as well as the black world. I have to be able to speak to white businessmen as well as black community folks and they are not the same.

The biggest problem I have with this faux Republican outrage is that in order to determine Reid’s remarks one has to look at his intent. Was his intent to racially disparage Barack Obama? No, in fact in his mind he was giving a list of the positives for then candidate Obama. We must remember this was the beginning of a historical campaign and who amongst us did not consider these if not other positives and negatives of the candidates. The problem for Senator Reid is that his remarks were recorded. To me this just demonstrates the problem with the current Republican strategy and that is it shows their total lack of principles. When you attack everything you find yourself defending some former positions that you once opposed, by doing this you appear hypocritical at best and insane at worse. Republicans defending Medicare? So what we have is Senator Reid stating that Barack Obama was a light-skinned black man who could speak to both black and white audiences. Yeah, that’s grounds for his immediate dismissal. Speaking as a black man I’m still missing the outrage no matter who had made the statement.

For Michael Steele to go on television and equate what Senator Reid reportedly said to what Trent Lott said is beyond me. Are we to believe that saying the country would be better off today if in 1948 an avowed racist had won the Presidential election is comparable to saying that Barack Obama was more electable because he was light-skinned and he spoke to both blacks and whites? I don’t think so. Have we become so racially sensitive that stating the obvious is now considered racist? The reason Mr. Steele will never be able to accomplish what he was elected to do which I think was to reach out to African-American voters is because in order to defend his task masters he losses any credibility with the very voters he is charged with attracting. Mr. Steele’s remarks may appeal to whites but if that is his core audience then the Republicans would have better served if they had elected another white man who would not have brought the baggage Mr. Steele has obviously brought. Do Republicans believe that blacks are that gullible? I hope not for their sakes.

"Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped." - Elbert Hubbard
The Disputed Truth

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Negro or African-American?

“While the term "Negro" has appeared in previous census forms, some young or first-time African-American census participants may find it offensive, which could present a problem for the 2010 census campaign, which has focused on inclusion.” - theGrio

I was watching the Rachel Maddow show last night on MSNBC and I couldn’t help but be intrigued by a young black man who seemed obviously intelligent discussing why having the option Negro on the census form was an insult to black people and how he thought the option should be abolished from those forms. The young man’s name was David A. Wilson, managing editor of theGrio.com. For those who don’t know “theGrio” is a news site launched by NBC to provide news content with an African-American slant. While I have not done extensive research on the site, I did find the argument against the census option confusing at best and naïve at worse.

The article and the young man argued that many younger African-Americans who may be participating in the census for the first time will be offended by having the option of Negro because it is a term that they have rarely if ever used. I understand the desire and the need for young people to help move the society away from past colloquialisms, however here is my problem with this and similar scenarios taking place in the black community. With so many enormous challenges facing the black community we continue to focus on issues like these which in the overall scheme of things are a matter of semantics at best.

As a neighborhood leader I am constantly confronted with this type of attitude in meetings ranging from school performance to the green economy. We continue to debate facts that are already in evidence and the effects of past problems as if to deny facts or to solve past injustices will remedy our current situation. A case in point is that in our school district we have a 50% drop-out rate for minority students, only 30% of our students are reading at grade level, and unemployment is at over 25%. Now rather than suing the school district for obvious under performance we have folks suing a property management company in our newly renovated downtown district because they have a dress-code that precludes sagging pants and white t-shirts. Now while I am not minimizing the importance of not allowing racially motivated policies to go unchallenged in public accommodations is that really the most pressing issue in our community? At a recent meeting discussing violence in our community the president of the school board when presented with the fact that the dress code for the schools was not being enforced in the schools by an officer who works with the schools, she stated that first the officer was incorrect and then followed that up with that the statement that the charter schools are having similar issues. Now these statements are from the head of our school board which to me is tantamount to the excuse that all the other kids are doing it and as all good parents know that excuse has never held water.

I have to confess that I use the term negro as a replacement for the widely used and accepted term in our community of “ni**a”. It seems odd to me that young African-Americans would have an issue with the term negro but don’t seem to show the same disdain for the term “ni**a”. It seems logical to me that if the Census folks were striving for inclusion that they would want to provide as many options to folks as they could since so often today everyone wants their own category or box to check. Have we become so sensitive that the term used on the census form has been elevated over more serious issues like health, unemployment, and education? I wish our bright young folks were spending more time articulating solutions to these issues than what term to use on a once every ten year form.

For my money if NBC wants to attract serious black readers they would focus more on the major issues facing our communities and not these types of red herrings. I would love to hear the editor’s opinion on what we must do as a community to combat the lawlessness and violence that is rocking so many of our communities or the lack of education being a priority for so many of our parents. We must begin to refocus our attention and our efforts on the issues that will make our young people more successful and prepared for the world that awaits them and not focus on an issue that will have little effect on their ability to graduate from college or become employable. We as a community have not done a very good job of preparing our young people for the world around them and it has resulted in the state that Dr. King feared most and that was that after all of the marching and dying that when the doors were finally opened there wouldn’t be folks ready to take advantage of all of the hard work of their ancestors (formerly known as Negroes).

There are many more wrong answers than right ones, and they are easier to find - Michael Friedlander
The Disputed Truth

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